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31 Jan 2023

Ana Swanson, The New York Times

Russia increases import of Western goods from neighbors & allies to bypass sanctions, recent data show

Russia sidesteps Western punishments, with help from friends, 31 January 2023

...Recent data show surges in trade for some of Russia’s neighbors and allies, suggesting that countries like Turkey, China, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are stepping in to provide Russia with many of the products that Western countries have tried to cut off as punishment for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Those sanctions — which include restrictions on Russia’s largest banks along with limits on the sale of technology that its military could use — are blocking access to a variety of products. Reports regularly filter out of Russia about consumers frustrated by high-priced or shoddy goods, ranging from milk and household appliances to computer software and medication, said Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies...

Even so, Russian trade appears to have largely bounced back to where it was before the invasion of Ukraine last February. Analysts estimate that Russia’s imports may have already recovered to prewar levels, or will soon do so, depending on their models.

In part, that could be because many nations have found Russia hard to quit. Recent research showed that fewer than 9 percent of companies based in the European Union and Group of 7 nations had divested one of their Russian subsidiaries. And maritime tracking firms have seen a surge in activity by shipping fleets that may be helping Russia to export its energy, apparently bypassing Western restrictions on those sales.

While Western countries have not banned the shipment of consumer products like cellphones and washing machines to Russia, other sweeping penalties were expected to clamp down on its economy. They include a cap on the price that Russia can charge for its oil as well as restricted access to semiconductors and other critical technology.

Some companies, including H&M, IBM, Volkswagen and Maersk, halted operations in Russia after the invasion, citing moral and logistical reasons. But the Russian economy has proved surprisingly resilient, raising questions about the efficacy of the West’s sanctions. Countries have had difficulty reducing their reliance on Russia for energy and other basic commodities, and the Russian central bank has managed to prop up the value of the ruble and keep financial markets stable.

...[T]he International Monetary Fund said it now expected the Russian economy to grow 0.3 percent this year, a sharp improvement from its previous estimate of a 2.3 percent contraction.

The I.M.F. also said it expected Russian crude oil export volume to stay relatively strong under the current price cap, and Russian trade to continue being redirected to countries that had not imposed sanctions.

Most container ships have stopped ferrying goods like phones, washing machines and car parts into the port of St. Petersburg. Instead, such products are being carried on trucks or trains from Belarus, China and Kazakhstan. Fesco, the Russian transport operator, has added new ships and new ports of call to a route with Turkey that transports Russian industrial goods and foreign appliances and electronics between Novorossiysk and Istanbul...